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Ex-van driver gets top penalty

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    Ex-van driver gets top penalty

    Ex-van driver gets top penalty
    Willie Strong receives seven years in prison for sexual abuse of medical passenger.
    January 22, 2003
    By Jim O'Hara
    Staff writer

    A 72-year-old Syracuse woman sat in her wheelchair in court Tuesday and said her faith in God and her trust in people were tested when she was sexually attacked in her home last year.

    On the other side of the courtroom, her attacker stood and said he was innocent of the charges against him.

    "I know in my heart and God knows I did not molest that lady," Willie Strong told state Supreme Court Justice John Brunetti.

    A jury thought otherwise, though, Brunetti said, and he sentenced Strong to the maximum penalty of seven years in state prison for his conviction on the felony charge of first-degree sexual abuse.
    The sentence followed Assistant District Attorney Alison

    Fineberg's recommendation. The prosecutor noted Strong, a former medical transport van driver, had abused the trust of the vulnerable victim and the community.

    A jury last month found Strong, 49, guilty of first-degree sexual abuse for sexually molesting the woman in her home after giving her a ride home from University Hospital in an Able Medical Transportation van the morning of June 15. The jury acquitted Strong of a more serious charge of first-degree sodomy, which could have sent him to state prison for 25 years.

    The victim, brought to court Tuesday by her son, told Brunetti she has always had "a deep faith in God" that was severely tested by what she has gone through. She momentarily broke down and began crying as she said she had always been taught to love, help and care for others.

    She told the judge that anger has become a consistent companion in her life since the attack.
    "He betrayed that trust," she said.

    Strong told the judge he did nothing to the woman. He maintained there was no proof of any sexual assault, he claimed the victim had given three different stories about what had happened, and he said the woman's son has filed a lawsuit against his former employer seeking monetary damages.

    Strong, formerly a resident of Tyson Place in Syracuse, made similar denials when he testified at his trial last month. But in a written statement to police after the incident last June, Strong admitted touching the victim in a sexual manner after bringing her home from the hospital.

    He did not make any admission to sodomizing her.
    Police reported the victim was physically helpless because of osteoporosis. She said she had been at the hospital for treatment of a number of ailments and dehydration the day Strong gave her a ride home.

    Defense lawyer Nikki Platenik said Tuesday that Strong would appeal his conviction and sentence.
    Assistant District Attorney Matthew Doran, who assisted Fineberg in prosecuting the case, said the jurors addressed and rejected Strong's claims of innocence by their verdict.

    Doran said the victim wanted to come to court to see what happened at Strong's sentencing.

    "She's been through a lot," Doran said. "She's a very strong woman. She's a very brave woman. She wanted to be here to see the outcome of the case."